Notebook: Mullen would like to see SEC expand game rosters for this season

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
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Florida head coach Dan Mullen, center, walks on the field during a time out during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Virginia, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Expanding game rosters is part of the NFL’s model for coping with COVID-19.

 Florida coach Dan Mullen wants to know if the SEC is going to do the same now that the league has gone to a conference-only schedule.

 As it stands now, the SEC rule states that only 60 players can dress for a league game, which doesn’t seem like enough during this time of uncertainty caused by the virus. In non-conference games, the SEC can follow the NCAA rule and dress 82 players.

 But because there are no non-conference games, are the Gators — and everyone else in the league — going to be getting just 60 players ready to play for each game?

 Mullen wants to know.

 “We've got to see what the SEC is going to do with the number of guys that can dress and play,” he said. “Conference-only games have very different restrictions than NCAA games. So we'll see if the conference really goes to the NCAA rule and starts to loosen it up as well for the safety of the players.

 “I think it would be a really good idea for the conference, for the situation we’re in, we should have the same number of guys being able to play from each team. Right now, that’s not the way it is. 

 “With the situation, we’re in, until the conference adapts that NFL model for the tracing, it’s the smartest thing to do. That’s why the NFL is doing it. You’ve got to be able to play a lot more guys so that you can get guys ready. Hopefully, they loosen the restrictions on who can play, how many guys can play, how many guys can dress for a game.”  

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 Mullen also has another question for the SEC: what kind of game-day atmosphere can schools create in stadiums with no fans or only a relatively small percentage of fans. Most SEC schools have established stadium capacities of 20 to 25 percent. UF has not announced its plan for crowd size in The Swamp.

 “One thing the league could do right now is very simple,” Mullen said. “If you have fan restrictions, these are the rules: we’re going to pump in crowd noise, we’re not going to pump in crowd noise.’ A really simple deal. You’re going to be able to create whatever atmosphere. What level, what volume that is.

 “The league has that rule against any artificial noisemakers and no outside noise being pumped in. If we’re going to stick with that, let’s come out and say 100 percent we’re sticking with it, whether there’s fans in the stands or not, there’s no artificial noise being pumped in. 

 “I haven’t watched a whole lot, but like baseball, someone gets a hit and somebody hits a button and people cheer or something. But that’s an easy decision that can be made today. Let us know and start prepping that way. Those are things we bring some certainty from some uncertainty.” 

Masking a problem

 Mullen said he’s gotten used to wearing a mask through practices, but that it is having an impact on one aspect of his ability to coach.

 “It’s not my favorite thing,” he said. “When it’s over, I’m not going to see me doing that. I’m not going to do this forever.

 “"I think it's harder to communicate, and coaching is a lot of teaching. It's just harder to teach and harder to communicate. So you’ve just got to kind of fight through that a little.” 

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Center of attention

 Mullen often stresses that center is the most important position on the offensive line. That philosophy apparently is evident at practice, where Mullen said five different players are taking snaps at center as the coaching works to build depth and find the right guy.

 “The center is one of the key ones,” he said. “We’ve got five different centers right now just to get that experience and get that depth.”

 Sophomore Ethan White, who gained starting experience at guard as a true freshman last season, has been running with the No. 1 offensive line, flanked by senior guards Brett Heggie and Stewart Reese, the graduate transfer from Mississippi State.

 “It’s good any time when you have experienced guys up there that can communicate. The communication gets really good,” Mullen said. “One of the big keys to the offensive line is communication. The more veteran guys in there, the more comfortable they are with what’s going on, the easier it is for them to communicate. It makes life easier for everybody.” 

 For Reese, it’s been a fairly seamless transition coming from Mississippi State, where he played two seasons in Mullen’s offense.

 “He understands what we expect in the program, so that’s not a shock for him, no change there,” Mullen said. “It’s been two years since he has kind of run the system and we’ve tweaked some things, but I think there’s a lot of familiarity and he’s played a lot of football.

 “I think it’s coming back to him pretty quickly, which is great and a little different than a regular grad transfer because it’s a guy who has played in the system before.” 

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